CHANGE means...overcoming the past

Juanima Hiatt writes from Oregon when she can grab precious silence.  She is a member of Willamette Writer’s Group and the critique group Scribophile.  Juanima has a special place in her heart for kids, especially teens, and a fervent desire to help people.  She loves movies, fly-fishing, hunting, nature, and any activity with her husband and two daughters.  Her memoir, The Invisible Storm, portrays her battle with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and what it takes to overcome the disorder.  This is her story.

As I was wheeled into St. Vincent Hospital in May of 2003 to give birth to my second child, I anticipated an easy delivery like my first.  I expected to share the moments of joy with my husband, and then take my new daughter home to continue the happy, stable life we’d been living.  Instead, the birth process turned traumatic for me; so much so that when my daughter, Jordan, was born I could not hold her.  I lay on the delivery table in a paralyzed, emotionally numb state, lost in a world without connection.

Her birth triggered PTSD, and though the nightmares that began soon after were initially about the birth, they became laden with something else: the abuse of my past, the history I had swept under the rug and put behind me fourteen years earlier.

It had worked, for a while.  I married an amazing man with an adoring family.  We were happy building dreams, and we enjoyed outdoor adventures.  The birth of our first daughter, Lacey, enriched our lives in so many ways I couldn’t wait for the blessings a second daughter would bring.  But life has a way of turning the tables.  I didn’t expect trauma, and I never imagined that everything I held dear - my relationships, my marriage, and my own stability - would crumble into pieces.

My past invaded my present, not only through nightmares, but through visions and flashbacks, making me relive the events I had tried so hard to forget.  I didn’t understand what was happening; I didn’t know about PTSD.  When my family pressured me to get help, I adamantly denied I needed it.  I believed it would go away on its own, but it didn’t.  In fact, it grew bigger than me.

As the shame of my past overcame me, so did the unrelenting symptoms of PTSD.  The frequent flashbacks produced an intense fear of people around me.  Eventually, it became difficult to leave the house or interact with people at all.  A trip to the store became impossible; the holidays unbearable, even with family.  As the walls around me grew thicker with fear and anxiety, I shrunk inwards, closing off and pushing away everyone I loved, and everything I had previously cared about.

I was a victim of PTSD, and it controlled me.  Feelings of worthlessness and failure devoured me daily, and though I tried to be a mom to my two daughters and a good wife, the depth of my inadequacies was far too great.  I couldn’t function; I couldn’t breathe without emotional pain piercing me throughout.  In the fall of 2005 I wanted to give up.  My thoughts seemed so rational to me: I can never be a good mom to my kids, or a good wife.  They all deserve better.  They will be sad for awhile, but they’ll eventually be okay.  My husband will be glad to not have a wife with so much baggage.  Their lives will be better without me.

I had completely lost hope for a future any different than it was now.

Then, during one sleepless night, I turned on the TV.  It was 3:00 AM, and a woman I’d never seen before spoke life-changing words straight into my heart: “How would you feel if your children felt the same pain you’re feeling right now?”  I knew hearing this message was not a coincidence.

The impact of those words was so profound, I fell to my knees and sobbed.  The thought of my girls ever being abused or experiencing the pain of PTSD devastated me to the core.  And in that split second my focus made a pivotal and monumental turn: away from ME, and onto the two innocent lives that depended on me.  The reality of ending my life unfolded in my mind with such clarity then.  I saw the devastation  and emptiness of my absence engulf my family.  My girls would not eventually be okay.  They would grow up knowing their mama had given up on life, and given up on them.  I knew in that moment that I needed to fight, or the chain of abuse would never be broken.

A rock-solid determination was born deep in my soul that night.  I would fight for my life, my health, and my family; and to do that, I needed to face the trauma that was crushing my spirit.  There are no adequate words to summarize the journey I took to healing.  Every trip to therapy was so laced with fear I couldn’t drive myself there.  I dissociated...split away from reality.  My best friend drove me there and took notes for me during each session so that I could remember what was said.  I went through treatment programs and workshops to learn healthy coping skills and get to the heart of my feelings.

I put one foot in front of the other, and it was agonizingly slow.  For years my husband couldn’t see any change as it was all internal in the beginning.  But change happened.  Little by little, as I endured and pressed through the pain, I changed.  As I did the work of healing, and pushed through my fears of living, I changed.

It’s been seven years since I made that unwavering decision to heal, and today I am a different woman.  I am a new woman.  My family can attest to that.  When I look at my daughters now, smiling, succeeding in school, and confident in themselves, I feel so proud of how far I’ve come.  In June of this year, I published a memoir about my journey, with the motivation to help others get out of their darkness, and to also help people understand what the inside world of PTSD is like.  But more than anything, I want people to see that great change is possible, when you make an unwavering decision to do it.  We are all stronger than we think.

You can visit Juanima's website and learn more about PTSD on her blog, or you can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Her book is available on Amazon and Barnes and  Noble.

As a writer and creativity coach, I believe the dynamics of change affect characters in storytelling as much as they do individuals in real life. If you’d like to share a story about what change means to you (or to one of your story characters), contact me to make a guest contribution to this insightful story series.